Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Review: The Summer Wives

Summary: New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams brings us the blockbuster novel of the season—an electrifying postwar fable of love, class, power, and redemption set among the inhabitants of an island off the New England coast . . .

In the summer of 1951, Miranda Schuyler arrives on elite, secretive Winthrop Island as a schoolgirl from the margins of high society, still reeling from the loss of her father in the Second World War. When her beautiful mother marries Hugh Fisher, whose summer house on Winthrop overlooks the famous lighthouse, Miranda’s catapulted into a heady new world of pedigrees and cocktails, status and swimming pools. Isobel Fisher, Miranda’s new stepsister—all long legs and world-weary bravado, engaged to a wealthy Island scion—is eager to draw Miranda into the arcane customs of Winthrop society.

But beneath the island’s patrician surface, there are really two clans: the summer families with their steadfast ways and quiet obsessions, and the working class of Portuguese fishermen and domestic workers who earn their living on the water and in the laundries of the summer houses. Uneasy among Isobel’s privileged friends, Miranda finds herself drawn to Joseph Vargas, whose father keeps the lighthouse with his mysterious wife. In summer, Joseph helps his father in the lobster boats, but in the autumn he returns to Brown University, where he’s determined to make something of himself. Since childhood, Joseph’s enjoyed an intense, complex friendship with Isobel Fisher, and as the summer winds to its end, Miranda’s caught in a catastrophe that will shatter Winthrop’s hard-won tranquility and banish Miranda from the island for nearly two decades.

Now, in the landmark summer of 1969, Miranda returns at last, as a renowned Shakespearean actress hiding a terrible heartbreak. On its surface, the Island remains the same—determined to keep the outside world from its shores, fiercely loyal to those who belong. But the formerly powerful Fisher family is a shadow of itself, and Joseph Vargas has recently escaped the prison where he was incarcerated for the murder of Miranda’s stepfather eighteen years earlier. What’s more, Miranda herself is no longer a na├»ve teenager, and she begins a fierce, inexorable quest for justice for the man she once loved . . . even if it means uncovering every last one of the secrets that bind together the families of Winthrop Island. -- William Morrow

I am a huge fan of author Beatriz Williams! I have read almost all of her novels (if not all of them!) and I was so excited to read her new one THE SUMMER WIVES. At its heart, THE SUMMER WIVES is a mystery but it's also a story about one woman's return to her childhood home and her attempt to have some closure from her painful past.

Like most of Ms. William's books, THE SUMMER WIVES moves between time periods. The novel begins with Miranda Schuyler moving to Winthrop Island in 1951 when her mother married Hugh Fisher, one of the wealthiest men on the island. Miranda's is thrown into a new world and her step-sister Isobel is eager to show her the ropes. Miranda isn't exactly comfortable with her new life, and she finds herself attracted to Joseph Vargas, son of the lighthouse keeper... and very, very close "friend" to Isobel.

When Miranda's stepfather is murdered and Joseph is convicted of the crime, Miranda feels the need to escape from the island. She becomes a successful Shakespearean actress, but she has never really been able to move on from her past. When she returns to the island in the summer of 1969 (around the same time that Joseph escapes from prison), she causes quite a stir. Miranda decides that she needs to get to the bottom of her stepfather's murder and prove that Joseph was wrongfully convicted of the crime.

I loved THE SUMMER WIVES! As a mystery fan, I loved the question of who killed Hugh Fisher; however, I also really appreciated Ms. William's characters and writing style. I always enjoy how she weaves stores between two time periods (in this case 1951 and 1969), but this novel also had additional characters' back stories that occurred prior to the 1950s. I think she does a remarkable job of bringing each and every time period to life with her descriptive writing.

In addition, I really liked the characters of Miranda and Joseph. Both were rather complicated and I found them to be intriguing, and I definitely enjoyed the relationship between the two of them. Through Miranda was no longer an innocent teenager, she still was trying to reconcile her past. As a result, this book was not only a mystery (and a bit of a love story) but also a woman's attempt to discover herself.

As far as mysteries go, this novel had a good one. I won't say I was entirely surprise by a few of the secrets that were revealed, but they were so juicy that I enjoyed them nonetheless. I especially appreciated how the story unfolded and the reader was given the opportunity to figure things out along with Miranda.

All in all, I thought THE SUMMER WIVES was one of Ms. Williams' best... and if you've read her novels then you know that's a mighty fine compliment. Highly recommended for fans of mysteries and fans of women's fiction.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Review: Y is for Yesterday (Audio)

Summary: Private investigator Kinsey Millhone confronts her darkest and most disturbing case in this #1 New York Times bestseller from Sue Grafton.

In 1979, four teenage boys from an elite private school sexually assault a fourteen-year-old classmate—and film the attack. Not long after, the tape goes missing and the suspected thief, a fellow classmate, is murdered. In the investigation that follows, one boy turns state’s evidence and two of his peers are convicted. But the ringleader escapes without a trace.

Now, it’s 1989 and one of the perpetrators, Fritz McCabe, has been released from prison. Moody, unrepentant, and angry, he is a virtual prisoner of his ever-watchful parents—until a copy of the missing tape arrives with a ransom demand. That’s when the McCabes call Kinsey Millhone for help. As she is drawn into their family drama, she keeps a watchful eye on Fritz. But he’s not the only one being haunted by the past. A vicious sociopath with a grudge against Millhone may be leaving traces of himself for her to find… -- Random House Audio

It is bittersweet that I finally finished listening to Y IS FOR YESTERDAY by Sue Grafton -- the last book in her Kinsey Millhone series. Ms. Grafton passed away the end of 2017, and I have been holding onto this audiobook and listening to it in very small increments. I just didn't want it to end. I probably didn't enjoy it as much as I would have if I had listened to it regularly, but I wanted to savor her last novel.

That's not to say that I didn't like Y IS FOR YESTERDAY a lot because I did. It's just difficult to come to terms that one of my favorite authors is gone. It made me listen to the book in a different light, with an almost sadness and dread rather than my normal appreciation of her writing. It's definitely true to me and all fans of Ms. Grafton's -- the alphabet now ends with Y!

Y IS FOR YESTERDAY is a mystery that was rather disturbing. The original crime takes place in 1979 when four high school boys from a prestigious private school film a sexual assault on one of their female classmates. The tape ends up going missing and the boys suspect another classmate... who just happens to get murdered. Two of the boys are convicted after one of the boys ends up cooperating with the police, and the last boy disappears without a trace.

Fast forward to the present day (which just happens to be 1989) and Fritz McCabe, one of the perpetrators, has served his time for the crime and is getting released from prison. A copy of the tape shows up at his house with a ransom note, and Fritz's parents call Kinsey Millhone to do what she does best -- investigate. Meanwhile, she is also dealing with a twisted individual from her past. Can Kinsey get to the bottom of these crimes while also saving herself from a dangerous and disturbed man?

Y IS FOR YESTERDAY is Ms. Grafton at her best. It goes without saying that Kinsey Millhone is one of the best private investigators in fiction -- I just love her. In addition, Ms. Grafton has created some fascinating characters and an intriguing mystery. She managed to transition the stories between 1979 and 1989 flawlessly, while also balancing the crimes of the teens and her personal nemesis. There's a lot going on in this novel with a lot of characters; however, it's very, very well written.

The audiobook version of Y IS FOR YESTERDAY was read by Judy Kaye. If I'm being entirely honest, I kind of wish I had read this novel instead of listening to it. I don't know if there was inherently anything wrong with the narration; however, I just didn't find her voice to be what I was expecting. It's probably my fault for even having expectations for what Kinsey might sound like, but Kinsey really isn't that old... and Ms. Kaye's voice seemed a little too mature to me.

Y IS FOR YESTERDAY is a great end to an amazing series -- but would you expect anything less from Ms. Grafton? Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this audiobook.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Kid Konnection: Food Fight!

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a fun picture book about some adorable dinosaurs -- I also featured one last week!

Summary: Grab your knife and fork and get ready to dig in to human history through the lens of food and the struggle to acquire it with award-winning celebrity food editor and author Tanya Steel. This book includes 30 kid-tested and approved recipes inside!

Did you know that Christopher Columbus set out on his most famous voyage in search not of the new world, but cinnamon? Or that rich people in the Middle Ages served flaming peacocks and spun sugar castles to their lucky dinner party guests? Did you ever wonder why M&Ms were invented? (Hint: That candy coating isn't just for decoration!) The quest for food has inspired all kinds of adventures and misadventures around the world, and this book explores the wildest and wackiest of them all, from prehistoric times through modern day.

Hungry readers can go on a finger-licking romp through the ages to discover the origins of today's common foods, yucky habits of yore, marvelous inventions that changed the way we ate and cooked, and the weirdest menus on record. Amazing stats and fast food facts are featured throughout, along with 30 original recipes, each specific to a particular time and place. So, if you are curious about how food shaped global history and culture, put this book on the menu. -- National Geographic

I reviewed some unusual books over the years on Booking Mama, but FOOD FIGHT!: A MOUTHWATERING HISTORY OF WHO ATE WHAT AND WHY THROUGH THE AGES by Tanya Steel might just be the strangest. I don't mean that in a negative way. I just never thought I'd be reviewing a book about the history of food or what people have eaten throughout the years!

FOOD FIGHT! is a fascinating look at one thing we all have in common -- hunger and food! This oversized hardcover book begins explaining just how hard our ancestors worked to find food, and how much easier we have it now. It goes without saying that food has changed throughout time, and it's definitely different depending on where you live. FOOD FIGHT! teaches kids all about the history of food while also providing loads of fun (and interesting) anecdotes.

The book is divided into the following chapters: The Prehistoric Era, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Medieval Times, Mongols & the Silk Road, The Renaissance, America Revolts, The French Revolution, World War I, America's Great Depression, The World at War, Again. The Sixties, and Future World. It also includes 30 recipes, a food timeline, and suggestions for further reading. Personally, I can't believe how much information about food exists in FOOD FIGHT's 150+ pages!

I love FOOD FIGHT! It's a truly educational book for kids of all ages, and by all ages, I mean adults too. I learned so much and the beginning of foods we eat today as well as inventions that changed the way we eat (think fire!). In addition, there's some pretty strange stuff in the book too that's certain to appeal to even the most reluctant of readers like weirdest menus on records and some pretty disgusting food habits!

I have always been fascinated by ancient Rome so I decided to go straight to that section. This section (and every other suggestion) begins with a "Bite-Size History" of the time period and a "Day in the Life." The following pages are all about food! There's a list of common foods eaten in Rome during this period as well as some information about how the Romans got their food. There are also sections on tools, menus of the rich and famous, and a "By the Numbers" sidebar which explains the cost of food as well as what was a typical daily food portion for a Roman soldier.

And there's more! I suspect most kids will enjoy the Yucky Habits of Yore section the most. This graphic has some interesting tidbits including some about Romans and urine. (That's all I'm saying about that!) Finally, the chapter on ancient Rome includes recipes for Apicius' Apricot Delight and Hail Caesar Chicken Salad as well as a fun little quiz to see how much the reader learned!

The rest of the chapters in FOOD FIGHT! follow a similar format and are equally as interesting. I especially enjoyed the section on the 1960s which include many of my childhood favorites and some not-so-favorites! FOOD FIGHT! is one of those books that you can read straight through or flip through and take in the fun facts. It's up to the reader how to best enjoy this book, but no matter how he or she decides to read it, there are many hours of educational entertainment.

FOOD FIGHT! will be available on September 11th. It's one of my all-time favorite National Geographic Kids' book, and I think it's a must-have for home and school libraries. Highly recommended!

Thanks to Media Masters Publicity for providing a review copy of this book.

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Review: Improper Cross-Stitch

Summary: A fun, witty, nerdy, and irreverent craft book for the modern cross-stitcher.

Sometimes it's good to be a little...improper. Profane, funny, and smart, Haley Pierson-Cox's IMPROPER CROSS-STITCH invites the modern crafter to bring personality and humor to their cross stitch projects. From a fully designed "Damn it feels good to be a crafter" to the beautiful Art Deco inspired "f%ck," Haley's patterns are fresh, lively and just what the crafter ordered.

In this book, she'll introduce readers to the joys of stitching the naughty, the profane, the irreverent, and the just plain awesome. First, she starts with a basic lesson in cross-stitch technique, no previous experience required. Then, once readers know your way around an embroidery hoop and a skein of floss, the books moves on to the designs—35 in total, ranging from hip, to nerdy, to ironically domestic—where Haley encourages crafters to embrace their inner snark with gleeful abandon.

Her easy to follow instructions and colorful designs can make a cross stitcher out of anyone. In all her years of crafting, Haley's learned many things, but this simple fact remains one of the most important: There is absolutely nothing in this world quite so satisfying as enshrining something deeply inappropriate within the delicate stitches of a cross-stitch sampler. It's truly one of life's great delights! -- St. Martin's Griffin

I first began cross-stitching when I was about eight years old. For the next twenty plus years, I always had a cross-stitch project in the works. Needless to say, many of my friends and relatives received hand-stitched pieces over the years. I even made adorable little wall hangings for each of my kids nurseries. Unfortunately, I stopped cross-stitching awhile back -- around the same my kids were born (coincidence?).

When the new book IMPROPER CROSS-STITCH: 35+ PROPERLY NAUGHTY PATTERNS by Haley Pierson-Cox was pitched to me, I thought it would be a fun little book to review. Heck, it might even get me to start this relaxing craft again. I have to say that cross-stitch has changed quite a bit in the past few years... or at least the patterns in this book are for a "modern" cross-stitcher.

IMPROPER CROSS-STITCH is a great book with 35 contemporary patterns. There book is divided into fun chapters with titles like "Hipster Snark" and "Talk Nerdy to Me," and the patterns themselves have really unique names as well. Most of these patterns were absolutely adorable, but I have to warn you that a few of them were a bit off-color or include foul language... so I just skimmed those pages!

There are so many simple and fun patterns that are perfect for teens and hipsters. Some of my favorite patterns include the "Badass Garden Gnomes", the "Morning Cup of Chemistry", and "Stitchers Gonna Stitch". Nerds like me will also like the "Grammar Police" pattern which includes a badge, a book and a pencil (it's precious), as well as the "Squad Goals" one which includes faces of Bronte, Austen, Dickinson, and Plath. And I can't forget the "Smart is the New Sexy!"
Badass Garden Gnomes - Improper Cross-Stitch, by Haley Pierson-Cox
Squad Goals - Improper Cross-Stitch, by Haley Pierson-Cox
I really hope IMPROPER CROSS-STITCH helps bring back this fun, relaxing, and rewarding craft to today's kids, teens and young adults. The author has even included terrific instructions so beginners (of all ages) can easily learn how to cross-stitch. She also included some easy alphabets and ideas in the back so stitchers can create their own unique works of art!

I definitely enjoyed IMPROPER CROSS-STITCH (even the irreverent patterns!) Highly recommended for seasoned or new crafters!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Review: A Double Life

Summary: Claire is a hardworking doctor leading a simple, quiet life in London. She is also the daughter of the most notorious murder suspect in the country, though no one knows it.

Nearly thirty years ago, while Claire and her brother slept upstairs, a brutal crime was committed in her family’s townhouse. The next morning, her father’s car was found abandoned near the English Channel, with bloodstains on the front seat. Her mother insisted she’d seen him in the house that night, but his powerful, privileged friends maintained his innocence. The first lord accused of murder in more than a century, he has been missing ever since.

When the police tell Claire they’ve found him, her carefully calibrated existence begins to fracture. She doesn’t know if she’s the daughter of a murderer or a wronged man, but Claire will soon learn how far she’ll go to finally find the truth.

Loosely inspired by one of the most notorious unsolved crimes of the 20th century – the Lord Lucan case – A Double Life is at once a riveting page-turner and a moving reflection on women and violence, trauma and memory, and class and privilege. -- Viking

Once again, I picked up a book this summer because of the buzz surrounding it. The latest one is A DOUBLE LIFE by Flynn Berry, and I can definitely see why it is generating some excitement. I found this novel to be both well-written and an intriguing mystery, and I guess it's loosely based on a real unsolved crime.

A DOUBLE LIFE tells the story of Claire, a woman who leads a pretty quiet life as a doctor in London. She also happens to be the daughter of one of the most famous murder suspects in England, but somehow she's managed to keep that a secret. It's pretty amazing that no one close to her knows her history because (believe me!) Claire is still traumatized by what happened when she was a young girl.

Thirty years ago, a man broke into her family's house and brutally murdered her sitter and beat up her mother. Her mother claims that it was Claire's father whom she saw in the house; and when his car was found abandoned with blood stains on the front seats, it certainly made him look guilty. He was never seen again, and his friends all maintained that he was innocent.

The police notify Claire that they think have found her father, and Claire begins her obsession with discovering whether her father was a brutal murderer or a wrongly charged man. Claire is determining to get to the bottom of this mystery even if that means putting her own life at risk!

I really enjoyed A DOUBLE LIFE. I liked that the mystery was based on a real-life murder (the Lord Lucan) case, and I thought Ms. Berry wrote a fantastic story. The murder was captivating, as was Claire's character. She was dealing with a lot of baggage; and while I wouldn't exactly call her an unreliable narrator, she definitely wasn't quite right in the head. It all made for quite the murder mystery.

I also really appreciated Ms. Berry's writing style. I enjoyed the pacing of the novel and I found it to be quite the page-turner. In addition, I found it interesting that the author incorporated some social commentary into the story, especially when it came to class and privilege in England. I also liked how she created the character of Claire. I found her to be intriguing and I was actually uncomfortable (at times) with her actions.

One of the best things about A DOUBLE LIFE was the ending. It was a shocker for me and I found it a little disturbing.... and that's all I can really say without giving away the surprise!

A DOUBLE LIFE is a well written mystery that's sure to entertain fans of this genre. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Kid Konnection: T. Rex Time Machine

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a fun picture book about some adorable dinosaurs -- I also featured one last week!

Summary: When two hungry dinosaurs jump into a time machine, they're transported to an unbelievable, magical, surreal future: RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW! On the T. Rexes' madcap voyage into the unknown, they encounter the many wonders of the modern world: Police cars! Phones! Microwaves! They don't know how they'll get home—but why would they want to? Acclaimed author and illustrator Jared Chapman combines two favorite kid topics—time travel and dinosaurs—with bold colors, big jokes, and a hilarious escapade. This raucous, laugh-out-loud adventure will delight the very young and keep older readers giggling long into the future. -- Chronicle Books

T. REX TIME MACHINE by Jared Chapman is a very entertaining picture book that's certain to keep parents and kids alike giggling. It's has a fun premise -- two dinosaurs enter a time machine and are transported to the future (which just happens to be present day!) The dinosaurs aren't quite sure what to make of all the amazing things like drive-thrus, fast food, microwaves, and more; however, they do appreciate the convenience of having food everywhere instead of having to hunt for it. There are so many wonderful things in our world that the dinosaurs aren't sure they ever want to leave... until they are!

I thought T. REX TIME MACHINE was adorable. The dinosaurs are incredibly funny and the book gives kids an insight into some of the things we take for granted in our everyday lives. Kids will definitely appreciate the dinosaurs love of all things food, and the illustrations are bright and truly the perfect complement to this hilarious story.

T. REX TIME MACHINE will be available on September 4th. Highly recommended for kids who love silly books -- and what kid doesn't love a funny story?

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Guest Review: The Force

Summary: The acclaimed, award-winning, bestselling author of The Cartel—voted one of the Best Books of the Year by more than sixty publications, including the New York Times—makes his William Morrow debut with a cinematic epic as explosive, powerful, and unforgettable as Mystic River and The Wire.

Our ends know our beginnings, but the reverse isn’t true . . .
All Denny Malone wants is to be a good cop.
He is “the King of Manhattan North,” a, highly decorated NYPD detective sergeant and the real leader of “Da Force.” Malone and his crew are the smartest, the toughest, the quickest, the bravest, and the baddest, an elite special unit given unrestricted authority to wage war on gangs, drugs and guns. Every day and every night for the eighteen years he’s spent on the Job, Malone has served on the front lines, witnessing the hurt, the dead, the victims, the perps. He’s done whatever it takes to serve and protect in a city built by ambition and corruption, where no one is clean—including Malone himself.

What only a few know is that Denny Malone is dirty: he and his partners have stolen millions of dollars in drugs and cash in the wake of the biggest heroin bust in the city’s history. Now Malone is caught in a trap and being squeezed by the Feds, and he must walk the thin line between betraying his brothers and partners, the Job, his family, and the woman he loves, trying to survive, body and soul, while the city teeters on the brink of a racial conflagration that could destroy them all.

Based on years of research inside the NYPD, this is the great cop novel of our time and a book only Don Winslow could write: a haunting and heartbreaking story of greed and violence, inequality and race, crime and injustice, retribution and redemption that reveals the seemingly insurmountable tensions between the police and the diverse citizens they serve. A searing portrait of a city and a courageous, heroic, and deeply flawed man who stands at the edge of its abyss, The Force is a masterpiece of urban living full of shocking and surprising twists, leavened by flashes of dark humor, a morally complex and utterly riveting dissection of modern American society and the controversial issues confronting and dividing us today. -- William Morrow

I loved THE FORCE by Don Winslow so much (my review) that I insisted Booking Pap Pap read it too. It was one of my favorite books of 2017, and I think my dad enjoyed it quite a bit too! He are his thoughts:

THE FORCE by Don Winslow is a story about Dennis Malone, an 18 year veteran of the NYPD who is considered a “hero cop”. Set in 2017, Malone is the top cop in the elite Manhattan North Special Task Force. Malone is 6’ 2”, covered in tattoos and is an arrogant, smart, violent and corrupt cop. He takes drugs, smokes marijuana, handles cash envelops to city politicians for “favors” and patrols the streets according to his standards of justice. Malone fights crime hard and parties even harder. Malone’s team is tasked with providing security to the citizens of the Manhattan North community but they also steal drugs and money from the criminals. Malone thinks of himself as the good guy and in his way of thinking, only his team cares about the downtrodden.

The book opens with Malone in jail and the reader then learns why he’s there. Malone has always considered graft as “normal business” but he crossed the line when he murdered a drug lord and kept a significant portion of the drug bust worth millions. He gets caught and is being squeezed by the Feds to rat on politicians, members of the judiciary and cops. Malone will cooperate to some extent but will do almost anything to protect his family and other cops, particularly his team

THE FORCE is a frightening book about cops, drug dealers and gangsters and how they coexist in New York City. The book is full of violence, not-so subtle racial talk and excessive profanity. It reveals the dichotomy of being a NYPD cop. On one hand he exhibits heroism through crime fighting and on the other hand he shows signs of criminal behavior through shakedowns and bribes. Author Don Winslow uses the story of “hero cop”, detective Malone, as an example of how deep corruption can run in the political and justice systems. Winslow story also reflects some stereotypical characters. For example Malone is a son of an Irish-American cop. Malone’s brother was a firefighter who dies on 9/11. Malone’s team consisted of an Irishman, an Afro-American, an Italian and a Jew. Malone has a white wife in the suburbs and an Afro-American lover in the city.

The overriding theme of the book is how good cops end up dirty. My one issue with THE FORCE is that all cops are portrayed as corrupt which I think is a gross exaggeration. The book has no likable characters but is a book you will have difficulty putting down once you start reading it. I believe the book is already under agreement to be made into a movie.

Thanks to Booking Pap Pap for writing this insightful review and thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Review: The Perfect Mother

Summary: An addictive psychological thriller about a group of women whose lives become unexpectedly connected when one of their newborns goes missing.

A night out. A few hours of fun. That’s all it was meant to be.

They call themselves the May Mothers—a group of new moms whose babies were born in the same month. Twice a week, they get together in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park for some much-needed adult time. 

When the women go out for drinks at the hip neighborhood bar, they are looking for a fun break from their daily routine. But on this hot Fourth of July night, something goes terrifyingly wrong: one of the babies is taken from his crib. Winnie, a single mom, was reluctant to leave six-week-old Midas with a babysitter, but her fellow May Mothers insisted everything would be fine. Now he is missing. What follows is a heart-pounding race to find Midas, during which secrets are exposed, marriages are tested, and friendships are destroyed. -- Harper

I decided to pick up THE PERFECT MOTHER by Aimee Molloy after I saw all of the buzz surrounding this novel. It was an immediate New York Times bestseller, and it's going to be made into a movie starring Kerry Washington. I had a feeling that this would be a terrific read... and it certainly lived up to my expectations!

THE PERFECT MOTHER is about a group of moms (and one dad) who become friends because they have one thing in common -- they are all have newborns. They decided to meet twice a week in Prospect Park in Brooklyn where they bonded over their babies. It was a great break from spending 24/7 with a newborn.

As most new moms know, it's a tough job being a mother. To let off some steam, these women decided to go out one night for a few drinks. Winnie, a single mom, is reluctant to go out and leave her son Midas with a sitter. The other women convince her that nothing will go wrong? Famous last words, right? When Midas, her infant son, is taken from his crib, these new parents' lives and their friendships are heavily tested.

I really enjoyed THE PERFECT MOTHER. The premise is fantastic and I appreciated that this novel was both a terrific thriller and a social commentary on parenthood, and especially what it means to be a good mother. The character development is well done, and the writing is insightful; and I think THE PERFECT MOTHER is just a really good book on so many levels.

I really appreciated how the author decided to tell this story. The book alternates between the moms in the friends' group; and while it centers around Midas' disappearance, it also brings to light these other moms and the issues/secret that they have in their lives. Much of the characterization of these women was focused on how their lives were affected by becoming parents, but they also had some juicy secrets of their own that added to the intrigue of the story.

One fun thing that Ms. Molloy chose to do was include emails from a parenting group at the beginning of each chapter. These emails were helpful advice on how to take care of your infants, and I got a kick out of the tone of these emails. I remember reading emails just like this when I was a first time mom and swearing that they had absolutely no idea what I was dealing with!

Finally, I have to give major props to the author because this mystery was fantastic. There were so many twists and turns, and I honestly didn't know where the story was going. There was more than once when I thought I had everything figured out only to learn that I didn't. What a great feeling when reading a thriller!

I found THE PERFECT MOTHER to be smart, and entertaining, thriller. Highly recommended to fans of mysteries and women's fiction.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Kid Konnection: It's Show and Tell, Dexter!

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a cute picture book about an adorable dinosaur!

Summary: Dexter T. Rexter is going to school. But will anyone like him?

Tomorrow is the biggest event ever in Dexter’s life: his best friend, Jack, is taking him to school for Show and Tell Day! Dexter has been getting ready for weeks. But now he’s a little nervous. What if the other kids don’t like him? So Dexter decides to come up with a plan. He’ll wear a costume. Dinosaurs in bunny ears look good, right? He’ll recite state capitals starting with…uh…ah…er. Then he realizes something. He can’t dance. He can’t recite things. He doesn’t have ANY skills. What’s a dino to do?

This comical, interactive tale of belonging, friendship, anticipation, and first-day-at-school jitters lets readers experience the excitement and nervousness along with Dexter—and even offer him a little advice along the way. -- Two Lions

IT'S SHOW AND TELL, DEXTER! by Lindsay Ward is such an adorable picture book. It's got a terrific main character in Dexter T. Rexter, it's funny, and it also has a terrific message. I loved this special picture book.

IT'S SHOW AND TELL, DEXTER! tells the story of Dexter T. Rexter, a dinosaur who is desperate to go to show and tell with his best friend Jack. Although Dexter is super--excited, he's also nervous -- what if the kids don't like him? So Dexter first tries on a variety of costumes because kids love dress-up, right? (I thought he should have gone with the Elvis costume!)

After deciding costumes might not be the way to go, Dexter thinks maybe he can do something special like recite the state capitals backwards or dance. But Dexter realizes that he doesn't really have any skills. Fortunately, Dexter realizes that what he does best is just be himself!

I enjoyed IT'S SHOW AND TELL, DEXTER! so much. Dexter is positively lovable and the brightly colored illustrations really bring the story to life. The book has something funny on almost every page whether it's the descriptive text, the drawings or even Dexter himself; and the ultimate message -- that it's best just to be yourself -- is a fantastic one for kids of all ages.

IT'S SHOW AND TELL, DEXTER! is part of a series starring none other than Dexter T. Rexter, and I know kids are going to love him. Check out these coloring sheets for more Dexter fun!

Highly recommended!

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Review: From the Corner of the Oval

Summary: In 2012, Beck Dorey-Stein is working five part-time jobs and just scraping by when a posting on Craigslist lands her, improbably, in the Oval Office as one of Barack Obama’s stenographers. The ultimate D.C. outsider, she joins the elite team who accompany the president wherever he goes, recorder and mic in hand. On whirlwind trips across time zones, Beck forges friendships with a dynamic group of fellow travelers—young men and women who, like her, leave their real lives behind to hop aboard Air Force One in service of the president.

As she learns to navigate White House protocols and more than once runs afoul of the hierarchy, Beck becomes romantically entangled with a consummate D.C. insider, and suddenly the political becomes all too personal.

Against the backdrop of glamour, drama, and intrigue, this is the story of a young woman making unlikely friendships, getting her heart broken, learning what truly matters, and, in the process, discovering her voice. -- Speigel & Grau

Over the past few years, I've become a bit of a political junkie. I turn on cable news every morning as soon as I wake up, and I usually fall asleep to the same station at the end of the day. So when I saw Beck Dorey-Stein, author of the new memoir FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL, doing rounds on television promoting her book about working as stenographer in the Obama administration, I knew I had to read it!

FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL tells the story of Beck Dorey-Stein, a recent college graduation who is working multiple jobs just to pay her rent in DC. When she applies for a position listed on Craigslist, she has absolutely no idea that it's for a job to work as a stenographer for Obama. (Isn't that incredible?) She winds up being part of a very prestigious team that travels everywhere with the President's entourage, and her story about what she experiences are fantastic.

Initially, I thought this book would be more of a tell-all about scenes behind the White House and the players in the Obama administration. And to a certain extent, it was... in a good way, not a scandalous one. Ms. Dorey-Stein definitely captured the essence of staff and the urgency of their work; and it was interesting to see how they all truly believed in the causes that they were pursuing for our country.

And while I enjoyed the inside look at Obama, his staff, and their travels, especially the little stories about her encounters with the president, I think the strength of this book was Ms. Dorey-Stein's revelations about herself and her personal life. She ended up having a relationship with one of Obama's closest aides, and it was at times ugly. Needless to say, it didn't end well for her.

In fact, I found the author's honesty to be refreshing, although I did want to shake her more than once for going back to this dog over and over again. Her revelations about her boyfriends (and her fling) were "no holds barred," and she had way of telling the stories about her love life that definitely kept things interesting. (Think really smart chick lit but true!) There were times when I just wanted to give this young woman a hug and tell her that things will eventually work out for her, although I had a feeling that she was smart enough to figure things out on her own.

In many ways, FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL was a coming-of-age tale. I so enjoyed following Ms. Dorey-Stein's male and female friendships (she was so fortunate!) and how she navigated the politics of her office. However, this book was also a coming-of-age story about how the author became a writer. She knew she always wanted to write, and she constantly kept journals about her experiences (which sure came in handy!); however, breaking through to becoming a published writer is a tough road. Ms. Dorey-Stein certainly has a way with words, and I look forward to seeing what's in store for her in the future.

I thoroughly enjoyed FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL and recommend it to fans of memoirs, but also readers who are interested in politics and enjoy smart coming-of-age stories!

I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Review: An Unwanted Guest

Summary: A weekend retreat at a cozy mountain lodge is supposed to be the perfect getaway . . . but when the storm hits, no one is getting away

It’s winter in the Catskills and Mitchell’s Inn, nestled deep in the woods, is the perfect setting for a relaxing–maybe even romantic–weekend away. It boasts spacious old rooms with huge woodburning fireplaces, a well-stocked wine cellar, and opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or just curling up with a good murder mystery.

So when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and a blizzard cuts off the electricity–and all contact with the outside world–the guests settle in for the long haul.

Soon, though, one of the guests turns up dead–it looks like an accident. But when a second guest dies, they start to panic.

Within the snowed-in paradise, something–or someone–is picking off the guests one by one. And there’s nothing they can do but hunker down and hope they can survive the storm. -- Pamela Dorman Books

This week an anticipated novel by Shari Lapena, author of THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR, will be released. It's called AN UNWANTED GUEST and it's sure to be a favorite with Agatha Christie fans, especially those who enjoyed AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. This novel takes place in an inn in the Catskills during a horrific blizzard; and over the course of a few days, quite a few of the visitors find themselves either murdered or suspected of murder!

AN UNWANTED GUEST begins with an assorted group of people arriving at Michell's Inn. There are journalists, a lawyer, a wealthy couple engaged to be married, a couple having marital issues, and more. In what was supposed to be a weekend getaway with cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and even romance, a surprise blizzard that takes out the electricity forces them to stay inside. Of course, there's no cell phone reception due to the remote location, so basically these individuals are totally cut off from the outside world!

Even though their best-laid plans were ruined, it still could have been a cozy weekend by the fire playing games, reading books, and making new friends... but it wasn't! The next morning, a female guest is found dead at the bottom of the stairs in what looks like an accident; however, the criminal defense attorney (who just happens to have been accused of murdering his wife a few years ago!) suspects that there's something amiss. When a second guest is found dead, the guests start to think that someone among them is a murderer!

I enjoyed AN UNWANTED GUEST and I truly liked that the book almost paid homage to the great Agatha Christie. This novel had an intriguing plot and a creative murder mystery (or should I say mysteries?); however, I'm sure that it lived up to Ms. Christie (although that might not be a fair comparison!)

I don't want to give too much away but I did think the mystery was well-crafted. I started to figure out a few things about the culprit and the motive, but the plot was smart enough that I was still in the dark about pulling the entire story together. The ending was clever although I did figure out one of the twists, but perhaps I was supposed to?

I did feel as if Ms. Lapena did a great job of bringing the setting of this little inn to life. Her descriptions of the rooms as well as how she wrote about the blizzard were spot on. Even though it's miserably hot here, I was actually chilled as I read about the winds and blinding snow... and of course, the picking off of the guests one by one!

The one thing that I didn't love about this novel, though, were the characters. There were quite a few of them and I just didn't feel like they were that well developed. Normally that wouldn't matter in a book like this one, but I think a few of the characters (and really one in particular) had some issues from the past that required a little better character development. I also found that I didn't really like any of them very much, which in a way was good I guess because it made me doubt and question each one of them.

AN UNWANTED GUEST is a worthwhile read as far as murder mysteries go. Even though it doesn't quite live up Ms. Christie, it's still entertaining and will keep you guessing!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Kid Konnection: What If Everybody Said That?

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with a cute picture book with a special message.

Summary: What if everybody chose to be kind?

If you tell someone that they can’t play with you, there’s no harm done, right? But what if everybody said that? What if everybody forgot to be kind…and made fun of other kids’ artwork at school, or told a fib, or refused to share with a person in need? The world wouldn’t be a very nice place to live. But what if everybody thought before they spoke, so the world would be a kinder place?

With clear prose and lighthearted artwork, this companion book to the bestseller What If Everybody Did That? explores the power of words and shows kids that the things we say matter. -- Two Lions

I think WHAT IF EVERYBODY SAID THAT? by Ellen Javernick and pictures by Colleen Madden is an important picture book especially in today's world. This book shows youngsters what it's like if kids say anything that pop into their mind... without thinking about the repercussions. For instance, one little girl tells her classmates that their artwork isn't very good and that no boys are allowed to play on the playground. She also learns what it's like to call out in class without waiting your turn. It isn't until her mom caught her saying something hurtful that they little girl realized, "What if everybody said that?"; and she understood it's much better if everybody says (and does) nice things.

WHAT IF EVERYBODY SAID THAT? is an entertaining book that will definitely resonate with kids. The author does a great job of showing how saying even the littlest things can hurt others and how important it is to be nice to others. It sounds so simple, and it is; however, it's a message that bears repeating.

I loved the message of this book especially given the horrible things people are saying about each other in our current political environment. And while I don't think kids necessary understand everything going on in our world, I do think the tendency to being less kind (and downright mean sometimes) is growing and ultimately affecting even our littlest citizens. I hope WHAT IF EVERYBODY SAID THAT? teaches children that it's better to say nice things... and that it maybe has a similar effect on the adults reading them the book!

I enjoyed WHAT IF EVERYBODY SAID THAT? and definitely recommend it to families and teachers!

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Review: That Kind of Mother

Summary: Like many first-time mothers, Rebecca Stone finds herself both deeply in love with her newborn son and deeply overwhelmed. Struggling to juggle the demands of motherhood with her own aspirations and feeling utterly alone in the process, she reaches out to the only person at the hospital who offers her any real help—Priscilla Johnson—and begs her to come home with them as her son’s nanny.

Priscilla’s presence quickly does as much to shake up Rebecca’s perception of the world as it does to stabilize her life. Rebecca is white, and Priscilla is black, and through their relationship, Rebecca finds herself confronting, for the first time, the blind spots of her own privilege. She feels profoundly connected to the woman who essentially taught her what it means to be a mother. When Priscilla dies unexpectedly in childbirth, Rebecca steps forward to adopt the baby. But she is unprepared for what it means to be a white mother with a black son. As she soon learns, navigating motherhood for her is a matter of learning how to raise two children whom she loves with equal ferocity, but whom the world is determined to treat differently.

Written with the warmth and psychological acuity that defined his debut, Rumaan Alam has crafted a remarkable novel about the lives we choose, and the lives that are chosen for us. -- Ecco

I've been a fan of Rumaan Alam since I read his novel RICH AND PRETTY. And while I definitely think he's a fantastic writer, I will admit that his twitter feed might even be more entertaining. You can just tell he's smart and witty, but it's the way he describes his interactions with his kids that just cracks me up!

Well now that I've read his latest novel THAT KIND OF MOTHER, I am even more certain of my assertions. He is a beautiful writer and extremely insightful about human nature. And I'm not alone with these thoughts. This novel was named a most anticipated book of 2018 by Buzzfeed, The Boston Globe, The Millions, InStyle, Southern Living, Vogue and Popsugar.

THAT KIND OF MOTHER tells the story of Rebecca Stone, a new mother that many women will relate to. She's madly in love with her son but she's also feeling very overwhelmed by motherhood. When she meets Priscilla at the hospital, she knows that this special woman is the help she's needs.

She hires Priscilla to be her nanny, and Priscilla opens up Rebecca's world in many ways. Priscilla is a black woman; and Rebecca starts seeing the difference between the races, especially when it comes to white privilege. Rebecca depends on and cares deeply about Priscilla, so when Priscilla dies unexpectedly in childbirth, Rebecca decides that she wants to bring up Priscilla's son.

As wonderful as Rebecca's intentions are, she quickly realizes just how much she misses Priscilla and how hard it is to bring up a baby, nevertheless two! She also starts to see that bringing up a black child when you're white has its own set of challenges. As much as she loves both of her sons, she can't deny that the world we live in treats them very differently based on the color of their skin.

THAT KIND OF MOTHER is a beautiful story about motherhood, race, privilege, loss, and most importantly, love. I really enjoyed this novel, and it touched my heart deeply. It also forced me to think about many of the issues we face including how different it is to be black and bringing up sons in today's world.

I hate to even say this because I sound so backward, but I can't believe a man wrote this novel. Mr. Alam captured the love of a mother perfectly as well as those first-time mom fears, while also bringing to light many of the issues of race in society. He created a character in Rebecca that was so real, and yet so flawed... and I found her extremely interesting.

It truly is special how Mr. Alam portrayed parenthood on so many different levels in this novel. Not only did Rebecca experience the challenges we all have with being a first-time mom (and eventually a single mom), but she also dealt with the challenges of adopting a child including dealing with the child's biological family. Furthermore, Rebecca was a white woman trying to bring up a black child... and she really had little, if any, idea of the challenges that would bring. I loved how she always wanted to do the right thing, and I felt for her that she kept facing difficulties.

I thoroughly enjoyed THAT KIND OF MOTHER and think it's a terrific book for book clubs. As you can see, there are so many important issues including race and parenting that are worthy of discussion. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.